Skylights Buying Guide | HomeTips
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Skylights Buying Guide

Skylights above this kitchen and family room flood the open-plan living spaces with natural light.

A new skylight can completely change the character of a room, adding brightness, a sense of spaciousness, and style. It can scatter sunbeams throughout a dreary kitchen, brighten a dark bathroom, capture a view from an attic room, or provide a starry-skied bedtime panorama.

Second floor bathroom is bright and airy, thanks to two skylights.

[/media-credit] Second floor bathroom is bright and airy, thanks to two skylights.

A skylight can save you money, too. In addition to reducing the need to use electric lights, it can deliver warmth in the winter and cooling in the summer, minimizing the need for fuel-based heating and air conditioning. On winter days, the sun’s radiant energy can shine through a south- or west-facing skylight to warm interior surfaces. And in the summer, a ventilating skylight can promote air circulation by releasing the warm air that naturally rises.

The trick in making these savings a reality—and in keeping your home comfortable—is to choose the right materials and features, and place the skylight where it can do the best job.

Types of Skylights

Skylights may be plastic or glass, fixed or operable, and made in any number of sizes and styles. They can have insulated glazing, UV-blocking capabilities, louvers, shades, and more.

Knowing the right materials, the proper size, and the appropriate features to meet your needs is critically important.

To help you focus on the particular qualities to look for in a skylight, please see:

Planning a Skylight

Keep in mind one important fact: A skylight will only work in a room that is either directly below the roof or is below an unfinished attic space. If you want to install a skylight in a room that has an attic above, you’ll need to build a light shaft through the attic.


[/media-credit] Skylight shafts channel light from the rooftop through the attic, and into the room below.

The shape of a light shaft controls the spread of the natural light beam. A shaft that’s flared on all four sides spreads light over the widest area. A perpendicular shaft with vertical sides focuses the light straight below. A shaft flared on only one or two sides sends more light in the direction of the flared sides. For more about building a skylight shaft, see How to Install a Skylight.

When planning a skylight installation, be sure to take into consideration the sun’s path. Skylights on the south- or west-facing portion of the roof will collect direct sun—skylights facing north or east may not get any direct sunlight. A skylight that receives direct sun can become an intense heat trap in the summer unless it includes shades, blinds, or some form of controlling sunlight (see Skylight Blinds & Shades).

Dual skylights in this master bedroom offer nighttime views of the stars. This placement calls for shades or blinds unless you want to wake up with the sun!

[/media-credit] Dual skylights in this master bedroom offer nighttime views of the stars. This kind of placement calls for shades or blinds unless you want to wake up with the sun!

Similarly, a skylight placed in a bedroom can offer a nighttime view of the stars but, if it doesn’t have some form of daylight blocking shade, it can also offer a rude awakening at daybreak. Of course, any skylight that is intended to provide a view must be kept clean, so ease of maintenance becomes a factor in choice of location and the type of skylight.

Sizing and placing a roof window in an attic room so that it captures a view calls for careful planning. The roof’s slope will affect proper placement. A low-sloping roof will require a taller window than a steeper roof for the same amount of view. Manufacturers of roof windows have charts that list recommendations based on the slope of the roof.

Skylights even work outdoors. Here they allow light into a wide covered veranda.

[/media-credit] Skylights can also work outdoors. Here they allow light—but not rain—into a wide covered veranda.

Be sure any skylight you intend to install will meet local codes for load, wind resistance, and related factors. Building permits are required for installation in most regions.

Skylight Energy & Light Ratings

Most skylight manufacturers test their products for heat loss, solar heat gain, and blockage of the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. These measurements are expressed numerically. It’s helpful to know these terms before you shop:

U-value, which depends not only on the glazing but also on the frame and all related parts, measures the rate of heat flow (from either side) through a skylight. This measurement does not include solar heat gain. The lower the U-value, the better the product resists heat flow.

R-value measures a material’s insulation value—the resistance a material has to heat flow. In reference to skylights, this value is usually placed on the glazing. The higher the R-value, the better it insulates. Skylights with the best R-values have low-e insulating glass with argon gas between the panes— these yield about twice the insulating value of standard dual-glazed panes.

Shading coefficient measures solar heat gain through glass. This coefficient compares a particular glazing with a single pane of 1/8-inch-thick, double-strength glass. A low shading coefficient means low solar heat gain.

UV blockage is a value approximated by glazing manufacturers, expressed as a percentage of ultraviolet rays blocked by the glazing.

Visible light transmittance (VLT) is a measurement used by some manufacturers of the percentage of visible light a skylight transmits. Where homeowners want plenty of natural light, they opt for high VLT values. Tinted glazing, which blocks glare by letting in less light, has low VLT ratings.

NEXT SEE: Fixed or Operable Skylights

About Don Vandervort
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Don Vandervort developed his expertise more than 30 years ago as Building Editor for both Sunset Books and Home Magazine. He has written more than 30 home improvement books and countless magazine articles. He appeared regularly on HGTV’s “The Fix,” and served as MSN’s home expert. Don founded HomeTips in 1996.

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